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Less is more: less watering, less lawn and less work


Published: 10:09 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, 2011

It's possible you're one of those optimists who still actually waters your lawn. This story is not for you. The summer has battered the spirits of some Central Texas gardeners to the extent that they have been calling in experts like Robert Leeper, a local landscape designer and builder, to just dig up the water-sucking grass and start over.

The never-ending summer heat has given Leeper's landscape business a boost, and not just because more people are choosing xeriscaping and lower-maintenance outdoor living spaces over high water bills.

Leeper sent along some ideas for how gardeners can save their sanity and maybe save a little on water bills by replacing some, if not all, of their lawn space.

Reduce (or eliminate) the lawn. "The less lawn, the less water and money," Leeper said.

"Instead of cranking up the old lawn mower, you can spend time with a pair of pruning shears, a good pair of gloves and lots of compost and mulch. It's called gardening — which most people are terrified of, but is really quite easy and enjoyable, once you get the hang of it."

He suggests looking for local classes on reducing lawn spaces at local nurseries or the Austin Museum of Art's Laguna Gloria art school.

Increase your bed space. Planting beds are often 3-foot narrow strips right up against a house, but Leeper said his designs are 6 to 8 feet wide to provide ample growing space for plants from the City of Austin's list of varieties that thrive locally.

Be sure to include at least 60 percent evergreen plants and perennials, or your beds will look bare and empty during the winter.

Create more outdoor living space. Leeper says this is the greatest trend in contemporary American landscape design. Think patio, but bigger. It allows homeowners to add substantial square footage to their living space.

Instead of going crazy with a big slab of concrete, Leeper suggests using gravel or pavers so that homeowners don't end up increasing their impermeable surfaces to create more runoff when it finally rains again.

Know what local plants will thrive here and which ones won't. In addition to getting to know the City of Austin plant list, Leeper says the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which he says has led the charge for native and well-adapted plants is a great resource for ideas and plants.

Learn some new ways to water. "You don't have to buy a sprinkler system if you don't want, or can't afford to," Leeper said. "Our company has installed several low-tech systems from big-box stores to get our landscapes established ... They aren't perfect, but they can be very practical and efficient, delivering tiny life-saving drops of water to each individual plants via micro-emitters, which have replaced the 'spray every square inch with hundreds of gallons' systems of past century.

"Traditional sprinkler systems can be adapted to have micro-emitters also, but there is something about turning that timer on when it's your day to water. You get in sync with your landscape, instead of expecting it to magically take care of itself."

Get professional help. Leeper advises homeowners to get some help from landscape experts to keep them from wasting money on the wrong plants but also to help translate what the homeowner wants for their landscape into reality with less effort.

"I've learned to translate 'orderly, inviting and alive' into a large entertaining space with simple hedges of Texas mountain laurels, a Mexican sycamore that will shade the picnic table, and a few easy-to-care-for pots," Leeper said.

"Many landscape experts and local garden centers offer consultations by the hour to help you map out your ideas, figure out spaces and make wise plant choices."

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Robert Leeper Landscapes

Robert Leeper Landscapes was started in 1999, after working with some of the best Austin nurseries and landscape providers. With a degree in Landscape Architecture from LSU - which is consistently rated as one of the best in the nation - Robert set out for Austin, Texas. Through continuous education and reading, travels to various countries and cities, and a love of nature and design, Robert grows his passion for the built and natural environment. Below is his resume and a list of honors and awards.

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Please contact us by email at robertleeper7@yahoo.com

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